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This village was brought to my attention by Al Dalton in October, 2004. Valaskovce was a small, isolated village on the Vihorlat mountain range, just southwest of Snina. A cursory review suggests that this village was un-incorporated in 1950 and turned over to the Czechoslovakia Army for use as a Military base. Most of the residents were relocated to Humenné. Administration of the territory was assumed by Snina. A quick research indicates that the church still remains at the site, but other buildings were removed. Around 2001, the Greek Catholic Church held a religious retreat at the site. The roads from Kamenica Nad Cirochou appear to be closed, according to local maps. Prior Road from Zemplinske Hamre appears to have been abandoned long ago.
In the fall of 2004, Robert Balog visited the area approaching along the forest road from the village of Kamenica nad Cirochou. A couple of abandoned guard shacks & gates were passed. A guarded Slovakia Army barricade was encountered about 1 Km from the site of the former village. Permission from the Ministry of Defense is required in order to proceed further.
Suzanne Bubnash Walker has also visited the site and contributed much additional information.
In 1937 the Czechoslovak government took possession of the village for a military training facility. All the structures were demolished, excepting the church. The villagers were relocated to Humenne, into an area where homes had been built for them. It was named New Valaskovce & is still inhabited by the same families today.
Suzanne Bubnash Walker has permitted the re-publication of her original article on the village.
Visiting Valaskovce, My Ancestral Village in Eastern Slovakia
by Suzanne Bubnash Walker of Beaverton, OR
In the spring of 1997 I notified my third cousin, Eva (Bubnas) Hancarova of Modra nad Cirochou, east of Humenne, that I would be visiting her family in November. Eva and I had been in contact only since 1996 when a mutual distant relative, Ann Kalonick of Wilkes Barre, PA, gave me Eva’s address. I expressed to Eva that my foremost desire during my brief stay in Slovakia was to visit the nearby village of Valaskovce, where my Grandfather, John Bubnas, was born Sept. 11, 1891. She informed me that the location of the village is off-limits, as it is now a restricted military base. The army had taken over that area in 1937, resettling the residents in an area of the city of Humenne they called “New Valaskovce.” Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed. In the summer of 1997 Eva mailed me a photograph of the village church. The army had restored the Greek Catholic Church in Valaskovce, which is the only structure remaining, and for one day only, on June 29, allowed former residents and their descendants to make a visit to the village site.
Upon my arrival at Eva’s home on Friday, November 7, she was delighted to tell me that she had been able to make arrangements through a “connection” for us to travel to Valaskovce on Sunday. It would be an understatement to say that this was a dream come true for me, and I deeply appreciate her for expending the effort to make this rare opportunity possible. Following is an account of our visit.
On Sunday morning, November 9, we dressed in warm clothing for the trip up the mountain. I brought an extra sweater, hat, and gloves in anticipation of cold weather at the high elevation. Eva brought cookies and apples picked from her tree. Eva mentioned that she had passes for only three people, but all five of us piled in the car, so I asked her English-speaking teenagers, Monika and Jozef, how we were all going to get onto the base. Monika said her mother would take care of it!
Valaskovce (about 700 meters) is located slightly north of the mountain peak called Vihorlat (1075 meters) which is shown on most maps of Eastern Slovakia. Vihorlat is the highest peak in the Beskydske Range of the Carpathian Mountains. The village name comes from the term “valaske,” which is a peculiar type of ax used by shepherds who populated this settlement. The route up the mountain begins in the village of Kamenica nad Cirochou, at the south end of which begins the steep ascent to the village.
The road winds up the mountain through a great beech forest. Its tall, slender, dark tree trunks grow in densely packed stands. Occasional gaps in the timber provide a look north toward Modra and other villages as well as the mountains beyond. As the elevation increases the beech trees diminish somewhat, giving way to a few spruce and pine, although deciduous trees still dominate the hills. We arrived at a gate staffed by a young soldier wearing a dark olive-green wool uniform accented in red--the uniform seemed old-fashioned, reminding me of the World War 1 era. Eva took out our three passes and began a discussion with him in Slovak. He took the passes over to the telephone and was gone several minutes. He returned, unlocked the barrier with a key, lifted it, and waved our car through with all five of us inside, no objections voiced. We continued driving up the mountain through the gradually thinning forest. Several abandoned roads branch off the road on which we were driving. There is evidence of military presence in the occasional isolated structures we passed, but it is nothing like an American military base with rows of buildings and barracks. At the point where the land temporarily plateaus Eva said, “Here begins Old Valaskovce.”
A little farther on the church came into view. Seeing before me this tiny, humble stone church that represents my ancestors’ deep devotion, and which played such a significant part in their lives, was an unparalleled thrill for me. This church of Saints Peter and Paul is the only building remaining of the old village. Most everything Eva knows about the old village was told her by Juraj Kalyanin, the oldest person still living who once lived in Valaskovce--he was only six years old when the residents were relocated. Eva explained that when the village was taken over by the military in 1937, the houses were left as they were. The soldiers took usable furniture, fixtures, and material from the houses, for themselves or to fuel their bonfires, and then gradually over the years they fell into disrepair and collapsed. The deterioration was probably helped along by exploding tank shells. There is no evidence now of any other structures except a cement foundation next to the church which once held a military building, and a still-standing “lookout tower” across the road from the church. It was pleasing to see this church in good condition. Built in 1833 and restored in early 1997, it is now used for services for the soldiers. It is topped on the west end by a small onion dome mounted by a simple cross. The restored gray exterior is rough and jagged, even coarser than the stucco on American houses. The wooden windows and door are new replacements--they were probably missing until the restoration. The door was locked so Jozef and Jozef Jr. found a plank for me to stand on, and lifted me up to look through the arched window above the door. There are no benches inside and a very simple altar area. The walls are whitewashed.
It was a misty wet day, and we could see more fog rolling in from the West. About 60 feet from the southwest corner of the church are two support posts for a bell, but no bell hangs there now. An enormous, aged linden tree grows between the northwest corner of the church and the road. Jozef Sr. thinks it might be 300 years old. Some of its south-facing limbs have been lost to rot. The ground close around the church is fairly level. To the east the land slopes gently down toward a stream, then back up the other bank. To the west it declines gradually for quite a ways, then back up into some hills. To the north the ground ascends slightly upward through trees. To the south it slopes gently downward for several hundred yards before beginning its steep ascent to the peak of Vihorlat. In other words, the land on which Valaskovce is situated is a south-facing slope, and if the sky had been clear, Vihorlat would have been seen to the south towering above this little settlement.
We walked from the rear of the church over to the stream, perhaps 100 feet east. The houses had faced both banks of the stream, and a road ran in front of the houses on one bank. A small bridge once spanned the stream. Eva did not know if there were other roads branching off through the village, as she knows only what Juraj Kalyanin (oldest man) has told her. It seems unlikely to me that the houses would be strung out in a very long line, instead of in a more compact “neighborhood” arrangement. As there were 42 houses in 1869 (according to the Zemplen County census taken that year), this arrangement would have created a very long, skinny village, especially because the houses with their attached barn at the end were elongated to begin with. Eva pointed out that her father Michael’s house once stood in front of a dense grove of ash trees on the west bank of the stream. She did not know her father’s house number, but the census and parish records reveal that houses #10 and #11 were inhabited by Bubnaš families.
The ground everywhere was very boggy, and covered with a long grass that had turned yellow for winter. The soil was sponge-like, thus every step we took created a small puddle of water around our shoes. Wild hazelnut and blueberries dot the area, as do other scattered bushes and trees. The hazelnut trees here are trunkless, consisting of clumps of tall, slender whip-like branches which bear tiny nuts, much inferior to Oregon’s cultivated crop. The pliable branches were used by the shepherds to build their sheep pens by weaving them horizontally. We saw evidence of soldiers’ recent campfires, which Jozef Sr. jokingly referred to as bar-be-ques, and a bit of unburned trash near them.
One notable fact about my ancestors’ homes is that at some point they had glass panes in their windows. In some primitive frontier settlements during America’s 19th century the window spaces were covered by oiled cheesecloth or in worst cases, only a blanket. But here in this remote settlement their little windows were glass. Eva says that peddlers wandered through European villages carrying a variety of manufactured products. The villagers could buy or trade for what they needed, so this is how they obtained panes. Although the windows were small, with four square panes set together in a two-foot thick wall, they did enjoy this luxury. Villagers made trips down to the cities with their carts or wagons full of harvested crops for sale. The wagons were pulled by oxen, which were much more common in Valaskovce than were horses. Of course, sheep were prevalent, our ancestors being shepherds (the Hungarian name for the village was Pasztorhegy, meaning “shepherd mountain”). Eva thinks each family had an ample number of sheep, perhaps 20 or more.
Knowing the general style of traditional homes in this area, it was easy for me to imagine the village’s appearance 100 years ago. Standing on the bank of the stream, I could visualize the people in their native dress going about their myriad duties. These included feeding and tending the sheep, goats and cattle, clearing land, cultivating fields, harvesting crops, threshing hay, gathering nuts, berries and mushrooms, preparing food, brewing drink, delivering babies, caring for children, shearing sheep, milking animals, churning butter, making cheese, grinding grain, baking bread, dressing meat, tanning cattle hides, spinning thread, weaving cloth, sewing and mending, scrubbing clothing, administering folk remedies to the sick, burying the dead, building homes, pens and barns, thatching roofs, chopping firewood, traveling down the mountain with wagons or carts to obtain goods they could not produce, bidding good-bye to their young men leaving for their compulsory army service, and enduring the pain of separation as loved ones departed for the unknown in America. All of this was intertwined with their Greek Catholic faith and cultural traditions--the Liturgy, Holy Days, the Easter season celebrating Christ’s Resurrection along with the Earth’s rebirth after the bitter winter, ritual meals, creating pysanky, making music, telling tales, embroidering lovely designs, courtship, matchmaking, the sacredness of marriage, dependence upon the priest as their spiritual leader, the terror of epidemics sweeping through the countryside, the anguish of too-common premature death. My Grandfather spoke little of the Old Country, but one recurring theme was his belief in ghosts. In his day village youth were sent up the mountain during summertime to pasture the flocks for days at a time, and when darkness tightened around the children, they were convinced the spirits of the dead were close by. In the blackness of night every sound, every silhouette, every breeze, every wisp of fog convinced him and his companions they were not alone as they kept watch on Vihorlat nearly a century ago.
The five of us walked south down the road to where Eva thought the cemetery had probably been located. We jumped over a ditch on the east side of the road and poked around in the brambles but could see nothing. Jozef Sr. said the cemetery location had been used as a target for tank shells, which likely obliterated any trace of grave markers. Monika remarked that traditionally cemeteries are located on hills, so her personal opinion is that perhaps the cemetery was further down this road. I noticed though, that as often as not, the old cemeteries in Slovakia are close to the village and on level ground. The nearest hill to the south was at least a quarter mile away, perhaps too distant for the cemetery location.
We went back to the church, and now the fog had rolled in. The Hancars wanted to show me a well located down the road, and asked if I would prefer walking or driving. I preferred walking, so after taking one last lingering look at the village site, four of us ambled north along the road on which we had driven in, and Jozef Sr. followed with the car. It may have been a third of a mile to the well. Once I saw it I realized they used an incorrect term--this was actually a spring. The spring is sheltered by a solidly constructed house made of vertically placed branches or small logs with a green metal roof over the top. This little house was made by Juraj Kalyanin (oldest man) not long ago to replace an older one. The roof is full of graffiti probably from the soldiers--names, dates, places. The water was slightly murky that day due to an overnight rain, and Monika explained that this spring was known for its medicinal value. Villagers drank its therapeutic waters, and it was in a good location for farmers’ use as this was the area where their crops had been grown. The spring water was used only for drinking or washing dishes while clothing was laundered in the stream. This land is now covered with trees and bushes, the growth certainly occurring only since 1937 when the village was abandoned. A stream runs past 10 feet east of the spring. The Hancars explained that each farmer owned his own land and each farmed his own multiple crops every year, such as potatoes, oats, rye and other products.
It was time for us to leave the domicile of our ancestors. The guard unlocked the barrier to let us off the base, and I left feeling that coming 6,500 miles for this one experience was profoundly worthwhile. We stopped on the way down at one of the gaps in the trees to look over the villages below. We could see Modra, which means “blue," and Dlhe, which means “long." I will forever keep the vision of what my ancestors’ lives were like in this remote site in the Carpathian Mountains.
COPYRIGHT 1998, Suzanne Bubnash Walker. First published in Nase rodina, Volume 10 Number 4 December 1998, CGSI. You may contact Suzanne via her web site, which contains more village information and many more photographs.
1635 Vlaskov, 1808 Walasskowcze. The village is mentioned in 1635, when the town of Humenné invited Valasky colonists to settle here (as the village name can confirm). In the XVIII century, Valaškovce belonged to Roll, and Dernath families, and in the XIX century to Ocskay and Bemyopvszky families. During the History, its inhabitants were occupied in agriculture and as woodmen. Source: Roberto Cannoni, Italy
The Greek Catholic St. Peter & Paul was built 1837, I've
been told. When the village was cleared of inhabitants in 1937 (the Czechoslovak
government wanted the area for military training), the houses were torn down,
but the church remained and fell into ruin. In 1997 the church was restored &
once again, the people with roots there were allowed back up onto the mountain.
It was locked when I was there but I got a boost from my cousin & looked in the
window. It's very small & very humble. - Suzanne Bubnash Walker
Note: Mt. Vihorlat is a popular woodlands recreation area for the local population. It is located slightly south of the town of Snina. Valaskovce was located in the foothills of this mountain. Swimming, hiking and camping are popular summertime activities.
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Last Update: 07 July 2007